Thursday, December 18, 2014

Advent Meditation from Rome

Manger scene outside the seminary chapel at the Pontifical North American College.
Photo courtesy D. Rankin, seminarian for the Diocese of Springfield, IL 
Courtesy of Fr. Brian Baker, good friend and fellow Atlanta priest studying in Rome, a reflection on this last week leading up to Christmas, from Fr. Kurt Besole OSB, director of Liturgical Formation at the Pontifical North American College.

We're in the final stretch before the Christmas season! Here's a reflection to help guide your prayerful preparation these final days:

On December 17th, the Church’s Advent liturgy begins to focus in a particular way on the Nativity of the Lord. The prayers, readings, and preface at Mass as well as the readings, antiphons for the Gospel canticles, intercessions, and prayers at the Liturgy of the Hours concentrate more resolutely than during the preceding days of Advent on the coming feast of the Nativity of the Lord.

The great “O Antiphons” have a particular role in these days as they have been used for centuries as the antiphons for the Magnificat [prayed at Vespers]. Each antiphon, always sung in a very similar melody, begins with a title of Christ, usually taken from the Old Testament, and followed by the petition that he come to us (veni) and act on our behalf:

December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)
December 19: O Radix Iesse (O Root of Jesse)
December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
December 21: O Oriens (O Daystar) [after this date, the days begin to get longer]
December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
December 23: O Emmanuel (O God-with-Us)

When taken together from the last title to the first, the first letters of each title form the wonderful Latin acrostic:



They form the Lord’s response to the Church’s ardent petition that he come (veni):

ERO CRAS (I will be there tomorrow)! 

[Fr. G adds: The verses of the famous Advent Hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!" are based on the "O" Antiphons of the liturgy.]

"O Adonai" The O Antiphon for December 17 

(A hauntingly beautiful polyphonic arrangement of the traditional Advent hymn)

Friday, December 05, 2014

Holy Hour for Advent

:: UPDATE :: Audio of the sermon is up at SoundCloud (28:55 min)

Here are some photos from the Advent Vespers service that we held at St. Joseph parish earlier this evening. There was Exposition, and Vespers were sung, with a sermon and Benediction concluding.

I was mighty pleased at the turn out, some 50-60 parishioners, including a great showing from our parish young adult outreach, who provided cookies and snacks on the porch afterward.
Incensation, either during Benediction,
or at the beginning of the Magnificat
(following Elliot's, "Ceremonies of the
Modern Roman Rite.")
Incensation during the Magnificat

Cookies & snacks on the porch after
I used the Meinrad tones (PDF link) for the psalmody (which we used regularly in seminary). Our choir director cantored, with the able help of our organist. The Vespers program did not have the notes for the faithful (I used a printout from Ebreviary), yet, after a few lines, the congregation picked up the tones very well.

And the sermon itself? Following the Bishop of Hippo's advice to preachers, I just lifted it directly from one of the great preachers in the English tongue, Blessed John Henry Newman, updating the language a little, and adding some (a little, very little) additional commentary and illustrations. It was his Advent sermon, "Watching" (Parochial Sermons 4, No. 22). It truly is a worthwhile and challenging read for this holy season.

On the way out, several folks said that we should do this more regularly.

Before the service, with one of the servers (who's applying to seminary. Pray for him!)
I'm most thankful for all those who worked hard, not least our cantor and organist. I encourage all of my brother priests and other pastoral leaders who might be thinking of something like this, to pursue it. The beautiful liturgical heritage of the Church should be shared with the faithful. This is indeed what the Council wished! And God is pleased with reverent and proper worship, and no doubt bestows many graces, especially to those who assemble to devoutly adore the Most Blessed Sacrament, and pray the Divine Office.

For your Advent reflection, if you do not wish to read the entire sermon (preached, it lasted a little over 28 minutes), here is a bit from the end:
Pray Him to give you what Scripture calls "an honest and good heart," or "a perfect heart," and, without waiting, begin at once to obey Him with the best heart you have. Any obedience is better than none,—any profession which is disjoined from obedience, is a mere pretence and deceit. Any religion which does not bring you nearer to God is of the world. You have to seek His face; obedience is the only way of seeking Him. All your duties are obediences. If you are to believe the truths He has revealed, to regulate yourselves by His precepts, to be frequent in His ordinances, to adhere to His Church and people, why is it, except because He has bid you? and to do what He bids is to obey Him, and to obey Him is to approach Him. Every act of obedience is an approach,—an approach to Him who is not far off, though He seems so, but close behind this visible screen of things which hides Him from us. He is behind this material framework; earth and sky are but a veil going between Him and us; the day will come when He will rend that veil, and show Himself to us. And then, according as we have waited for Him, will He recompense us.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"Francis gives the passport to married Eastern priests. Valid in the whole world."

Well this is pretty huge: the Holy Father has lifted most restrictions on the ministry of married Eastern Catholic priests worldwide. A decree from the Congregation for Oriental Churches was published back in June. Magister has a piece on it in his (Italian only) blog. In the US, in my understanding, married men were being admitted to presbyteral orders quite regularly, if in exception to the 1929 restriction on married men being ordained in the U.S. (which sparked a huge schism in the Ruthenian Church.), on a "case-by-case and exceptional basis," since 2008.

The document refers to Anglicanorum Coetibus (Pope Benedict XVI's 2009 historical and rather radical outreach to dissatisfied Anglicans: under those norms, married men could remain married and not only be ordained priests [a dispensation from the requirement for celibacy in the Latin Rite granted under John Paul II under the "Pastoral Provision"], but also have the rights and privileges belonging to Ordinaries -- i.e. juridical equivalents of Bishops, without the sacramental ordination into that rank of Holy Orders). It also provides a history of the restrictions in the US and the American continent of married Eastern Catholic priests.

The three modalities of exercise of the faculty to ordain married men by Eastern Churches outside their historical territory (where they already enjoy this faculty by tradition and law) outlined by "Pontificia Praecepta Pro Ecclesiis Orientalibus" are:

- in Eastern jurisdictions (Eparchies, Metroplitanates, Exarchies), the hierarchy has the right to ordain married men according to the tradition of their respective Church, but should inform in writing the local Latin bishops (where the candidate is from) and avail of any relevant information and opinion. 

- in areas without a local Eastern hierarchy, the faculty is given to the Ordinary who has their care, as long as the local Episcopal Conference is informed 

- in territories where Eastern Catholics do not have any administrative structure and where their care is directly the responsibility of the Latin hierarchy, this faculty is reserved to the Congregation for Eastern Churches which will exercise it in individual and exception cases, after having ascertained the opinion of the local Episcopal Conference.

[These are very rough and quick translations of the Italian]

The decree is dated June 14, 2014. However, this is the first I'm hearing of it -- and Magister published this blog only today. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Latin American Catholicism

On Tuesday (Nov. 11), the Pew Forum published their report on Religion in Latin America. The news media have been picking up on this today. For anyone interested in the Church, this report is a must read.

First, the simple snapshot, which these two graphics so clearly provide:

 94% in 1910, about the same in 1970, and then an accelerating, precipitous decline. 69% of Latin Americans claim a Catholic identity in 2014. [What is it with the 1970s??]

Look at the numbers in the chart below: Argentina, down to 71% from 91%; Brazil (the largest Catholic country in the world), down to 61%, Guatemala and El Salvador, 50% and Honduras, 46% (that is a majority of Hondurans are no longer Catholic). Uruguay is at the lowest, 42%, the most secular Latin American country.

What's also fascinating is that some countries showed an increase (15% in Colombia) in the Catholic population between 1910 and 1970. But since then, every single country has lost Catholics.

The two fastest growing groups are Protestant (which would include mainline, evangelical and, most especially, Pentecostal, with all kinds of overlaps), and a full 8% of Latin Americans consider themselves religiously unaffiliated (the equivalent of "nones" in US studies.)

The Church is bleeding. Haemorrhaging. There can be no doubt about this at all.

A Catholic seminary in Macon?

Parishioner Pete Konekamp, a veteran radio journalist, shared this on Facebook earlier today. It's posted here with his permission. A fascinating tidbid of Georgia Catholic history:

[Photo courtesy Pete Konekamp]
Throwback Thursday takes a detour off the main road and deep into the woods of north Macon. There, in the woods off Forest Hill Road, is more Georgia history you never knew.

In the late 1800's, Jesuit priests operated a seminary off a street in Macon named for Pope Pius IX. Pio Nono Avenue. The seminary, originally called Pio Nono College was dedicated in 1873. 

Renamed St. Stanislaus College, it burned to the ground in 1921. With that, all traces of the seminary disappeared. Or did they? The Jesuits established a retreat site on what was then, a hundred acres of pristine Georgia woodland. The retreat had a swimming pool, a path on which to pray the Stations of the Cross and statues of the saints. Only one statue, of St. Peter, remains. It was toppled by vandals years ago and its head shattered. 

In the early 20th century, the land was purchased by North Winship, US Ambassador to South Africa. Winship lovingly preserved the site. On his death in 1965, the property fell into ruin and Winship's house was destroyed by fire. On the site there is a graffiti covered grotto, that once held a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The grotto remains, as slowly but surely, this once beautiful piece of history fades from view. Adjacent to it, is an apartment complex. It is surrounded by houses and consumed by vegetation. There is an effort underway to save the grotto but it hasn't gained much traction.

I first wrote about the grotto 40 years ago. The only thing that's changed in all that time, is the site has continued to deteriorate. If you are so inclined, see it while you can. Fall is the best time to visit, because the vegetation has died off and the insects and snakes are in hiding.

[Photo courtesy Pete Konekamp]
Doing some digging around the Interwebs, I found a reference to a little report in the New York Times from May 3, 1874 (PDF available online for free), on the ceremony where the corner-stone was laid for Pio Nono College, saying that the college would be the largest Catholic college in the South. It describes the procession as containing the Bishop of Savannah, priests, the Mayor and councilmen and twenty five religious, civil and military organizations, and a huge crowd! I always wondered where Pio Nono Avenue (pronounced by the locals as "pie-o nono"!)  in Macon came from.

Of course the jewel of Catholic Macon is St. Joseph Church, also built by the Jesuits. [Sadly, I simply cannot picture the SJs building anything quite so beautiful today ... ]. That deserves another post, perhaps after a new visit to this stunningly beautiful church ...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The All Saints Vigil at the Dominican House of Studies

Cover of the program for the 2013 Vigil.
For years now, the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC has hosted a prayer service of chant, hymn, lessons, reflections, and a procession, for the Vigil of All Saints. The event continues to grow and has become a major young adult attraction in the area. Today is no exception.

I first attended this when I was a novice with the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle, a couple of houses down from the OPs, back in 2006. It was mind-blowing, as this blog post from back then shows. In my discernment, it was one of the earliest hints that I had that I was not meant to stay with the CSPs (I wouldn't leave until late 2007) -- such beauty, beauty which had first drawn me to the Church, is something I would have had to fight for (or so it seemed) in that community.

I attended again in 2007: the Praise of His Glory.

In 2008, I was back in the greater DC area, as a pre-theologian at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg. At my behest, the members of my Jesu-Caritas (fraternity) group drove down for the Vigil. Two of those guys would later (the next year), enter the novitiate of the St. Joseph province. One of them just made his solemn profession, on August 15 of this year, and will soon be preparing for ordination to the diaconate (I need to send in a request for my finders fee to the Province! :)). [Of the other guys in the group, one is a happily married father, and another was just ordained a priest for the Diocese of Charlotte. And Ed, all I gots to say to you is pupusas!].

And then again in 2009.

Some of the links in the old blogs don't work. I can't find any of the homilies online anymore. The OP vocations page has a link with some videos. There is a transcript of a Religion & Ethics weekly story from 2006 still online. There's this piece from the Register. You can get a complete PDF of the program from the 2013 Vigil online. Photos from the 2011 Vigil online.

And finally, a collection of 12 great videos from the good folks at OP East from St. Peter's List. Lots of good stuff!

I am big fan of the St. Joseph Province. Apart from my friend mentioned above, another good friend just finished his Novitiate, and made his first profession in August, and there's at least 3 other guys I know who are students. OP East is an amazing powerhouse. The Lord has showered his blessings on this branch of St. Dominic's family, and, please God, these gifts will bear great fruit in the Church.

A sample -- Br. Dominic Verner's blog post at the Dominicana: The Irony of Lucifer's Fall.

All holy men and women of God, pray for us! 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete 1941-2014

A photo of Msgr. Albacete I took at New York Encounter in 2012
At this talk given at New York Encounter in 2013, he relayed, in that deep, gravelly, raspy voice, and with that humor and authenticity that was so characteristic, his first encounter, as a young priest, with a visiting Polish Cardinal, the future John Paul II, the beginning of a beautiful friendship. 
The two soon discovered they had a great deal in common, including an interest in theatre, poetry and science. Fr. Albacete asked the cardinal what was the proper theological language in which to speak about the love of God. “Poetry,” he answered. “When you tell your girlfriend you love her, you send her a poetic love note, not a math equation.” A deep friendship grew from this encounter and continued when the cardinal was elected Pope John Paul II. Fr. Albacete received his doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome, in 1983.  [From his obituary, linked here.]
While at the Mount, my CL buddies and I talked briefly about trying to get him to come and speak. However, at that point, he was taking care of his sick brother, and was already in frail health himself.
If you have a moment, check out "God at the Ritz"
His very poignant and honest interview about 9/11, from PBS
To me, to distract one from this, to look for explanations, is obscene. It's an offense against the reality of what happened -- an offense against our humanity -- to look for political explanations, economic explanations, diplomatic explanations. "Oh, it's American foreign policy. It is the arrival into our shores of the Palestinian-Israeli fight. It is globalization. It is the cultural wars. It is American imperialism." All of that is proposed by the "Yes, but" brigade who got to work immediately after the explosion. It is obscene and irresponsible, because we were facing an attack, a hatred of humanity which is what we all have in common. It's our line of defense, our only one. And now that was gone. ... 
The people who did this, who planned it, who brought it about, I don't know what their theology or their ideology is. I take them at their word; they died with the name of God on their lips. People say they were sincere; well, yes, they were. They believed. This is an act for them that was a sincere act, the worship of their God. I take them at their word. Does that make them any less evil? Oh, but no, that precisely is the monstrosity. If they were not sincere, it would be a terrible thing, but ... it is the sincerity, it is the free will. I mean, they willed this to happen. They willed the destruction of humanity, of humanness, of everybody in that place on that day at the World Trade Center. This was a freely willed act, very sincere. And this sincerity is one of the horrible characteristics of the face of evil I saw that day. ...
People are like wingless chickens nowadays: interview with Robert Wright. [Verifying the religious sense, starting at 16m.] The impetus that drives humanity, this is religion. The passion for answering the existential question why? 

The story from the Vatican Insider, today. 
Therefore, Pope Francis’ words from Evangelii Gaudium are befitting our dearest Lorenzo: “Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone, not as one who imposes a new obligation, but rather as one who shares a joy, points out a beautiful horizon, offers a desirable banquet. The Church does not grow by proselytism but ‘by attraction.’” He was undoubtedly so captivating that he immediately became friends with anyone he met, because he was showing the beauty and usefulness of faith for facing life’s needs.With his tireless work, he witnessed to us how faith can become “intelligence of reality,” with his ability to recognize and embrace anyone without ambiguity, but for love of the truth that is present in every person. With his suffering, he has reminded us that there is no circumstance, not even the most difficult and toilsome, that can prevent the “I” from having a daily dialogue with the Mystery.
The funeral will be celebrated by Sean Cardinal O'Malley at St. Mary's Church in Manhattan on Tuesday, October 27. [Funeral arrangements at the CL website.]
What an amazing and great man. I am honored to have met him. 
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. I offered up my Mass today for the repose of his soul. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A week with Blessed Paul VI: Day Three

Today, a couple of selections from one of the watershed moments of his Papacy, the encyclical Humanae Vitae (July 25, 1968), where the crisis of dissent in the Catholic Church erupted, and whose effects are still with us.

Paragraph 17 is generally regarded as prophetic:
17. Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
This principle is worth reflecting on today, as even newer challenges to the dignity of human life arise in our time:
Consequently, unless we are willing that the responsibility of procreating life should be left to the arbitrary decision of men, we must accept that there are certain limits, beyond which it is wrong to go, to the power of man over his own body and its natural functions—limits, let it be said, which no one, whether as a private individual or as a public authority, can lawfully exceed. 

And this is truly prophetic, especially in light of what we have seen in the Church in the last two weeks
18. It is to be anticipated that perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching. There is too much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication. But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a "sign of contradiction." (22) She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical.
Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man. 
In preserving intact the whole moral law of marriage, the Church is convinced that she is contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization. She urges man not to betray his personal responsibilities by putting all his faith in technical expedients. In this way she defends the dignity of husband and wife. This course of action shows that the Church, loyal to the example and teaching of the divine Savior, is sincere and unselfish in her regard for men whom she strives to help even now during this earthly pilgrimage "to share God's life as sons of the living God, the Father of all men." (23)
Read it all! 

Beate Paule VI, ora pro nobis!